Former Abia State finance commissioner Dr Philip Nto is the Provost, Abia State College of Education Technical Arochukwu (ASCETA). In this interview with The Realm News publisher Don Norman Obinna, he denied the allegations of embezzlement of funds, corruption, nepotism and disregard for due process in contract awards. He also relived his achievements and plans as his tenure ends in March 2020.
Your staff accused you of awarding contracts including TETFUND building project to your company, Presto via a proxy. How true is this?
It cannot be true. I am not a businessman but a civil servant. I have been a civil servant my entire life. I have not engaged in anything business. I have not engaged myself in anything private like looking for contracts.
I have been teaching at the university throughout my life. I don’t have any company called Presto. I don’t have any business interest in any company whether Presto or any other.
What about the ASCETA vehicles and tractor sold to Linto Farms for N30,000 without proper documentation and due process?
Okay, it cannot be true. I am an apostle of due process and rule of law. So there is no way I will touch government vehicle without following due process.
At my level, I don’t think I can do that. Like you rightly said, the tractor was sold to Linto Farms. Linto Farms does not belong to me. I am not a director. I am not a (board) member, I am not a shareholder, I am not a (member of) staff, I am not their consultant.
In line with due process, (Linto Farms) was the highest bidder and we sold it to the company.
Do you know this company called Presto? Do you have any special relationship with the directors or whosoever is in charge?
I don’t have. I don’t even know their directors. But I know that they wanted the job and they properly executed it in line with DPP rules and in line with TETFUND guidelines.
What about the purchase of 23-seater Innoson awarded to Presto since last year? Why hasn’t it been delivered up till this moment?
I am looking at an Innoson bus right now in front of my house. It is parked there. I am looking at it as I’m talking to you. So, their claim that it was yet to be delivered is not true.
The company supplied and we have taken delivery, and we have paid the contractor and the college is making good use of the bus.
Why was the school account jettisoned for the bursar’s (Mr Anthony Odoemelam) in the payment of the school’s IGR, levies and tuition fees?
It’s not possible at all. We have an account with Union Bank and with First Bank. So, there is no way students would be asked to pay money into anybody’s account.
Immediately I took over the mantle of leadership of the institution, I made it clear that no member of staff should collect money by hand.
Students should pay into the appropriate college account and collect receipt for whatever the reason for the payment may be. You pay straight into the college account and collect the receipt.
So, it’s not possible that the college would open an account in the name of the bursar.
The bursar, Mr Odoemelam, was said to be a retiree from Umuahia who was appointed without due process. How was his appointment made?
We advertised for the position in the newspapers when the post was declared vacant by the governing council.
We made it clear that if you had been a deputy registrar of a recognised institution or a director in the ministry, you were free to apply. The people that applied were shortlisted. I think he came first in the interview.
So, if he is a retiree, that is not to my knowledge. And his service was properly transferred by the Abia State Government to the college.
So, if he was a retiree, how would Abia State Government transfer his service? It’s not possible.
So, if he’s a retiree, that is not to my knowledge. It’s the Abia State Government that will confirm that. But I know it’s not possible for the government to transfer the service of a retiree.
You were accused of favouring your brothers from Ututu. We heard that you’ve employed over 50 despite student population reducing to 500 from 30,500. One of such appointment was that of the cashier Mr Nkenna Chijioke who graduated in 2018. How do you respond to these claims?
I inherited Chijioke as a cashier. I never appointed him. He was cashier before I took over that place, and he’s still the cashier because he is diligent in his service to duty. And for the other allegation that I favour people from my place and appointed 50 of them, it is not true.
Let me explain.
When I took over, I inherited a system that was seriously down; a rotten institution where the first and second reports I got were on rape. So, within one month, I got reports on the rape of female students. So when I Invited the then Chief Security Officer (CSO), he told me that there was nothing he could do.
I said okay and wrote a petition to the commissioner of police and also to the Department of State Security (DSS). I also wrote the state government. Within a period of one week, I was told that the son of the then CSO was the one organising the rapes. They wrote me a report. The report is there in my office.
When I got the report, I decided that the best to do was to take over the security architecture of the institution. The then CSO was not even a security man. He never retired from any security organisation.
So that was why we engaged the current CSO who has a background in the police. And since he took over, we have not recorded any case of rape, robbery or cultism. The school has been calm. He is doing a very good job in that institution.
That one (the current CSO) is from my place and he is doing a thorough job. And he was not employed because he is from Ututu. He was employed because he met the guidelines which said that you must be a retired senior police officer to be appointed CSO.
The School of Business, School of Social Sciences and Art theatre hall buildings were said to be below the approved specifications without water but TETFUND officials approved it. One of the newly completed buildings had old doors and toilet materials and lecturers were asked to pack in. Your response?
(Laughs)…well, you know an enemy is always looking for an opportunity to blackmail. But some of us cannot yield to cheap blackmail. I have been a Commissioner for Finance during which I faced a lot of blackmail.
During my career at the university, I also faced some of those cheap blackmails. So, we can’t chicken out. When I took over, it was not even looking like a glorified secondary school. It was more like an underdeveloped primary school.
We, first of all, developed the master-plan. There was no light so, I connected it to the national grid. And we bought a lot of electricity poles. As I talk with you, I have over 30 electric poles with street lights.
For over 14 years, the place did not undergo accreditation by the regulatory agency. Immediately I took over, I brought NCCE that conducted accreditation. The institution I inherited then didn’t give a certificate to one single person from the inception until I took over. You know what makes you a graduate of an institution is not a statement of the result but the certificate.
Immediately I took over, I took delivery of certificates from when the institution was opened till 2015. And we started distributing them to the graduates of this institution. The people accusing me are just feeling intimidated.
By March (2020), my tenure will finish and I will return to the university to continue my career. I’m not a politician and don’t intend to be one. The issue is that I attracted a lot of TETFund building contracts.
These people are just being intimidated by my rising profile. But the profile is not for politics but for my personal career and development. So if you say there was no water in the building before TETFund approved it, was water included in the contract?
People should have verified whether it was there in the contract that they should put water. Did they do something that was outside the bill of quantity?